A federal judge handed pro-choice groups a major loss Monday by upholding multiple restrictions on abortion clinics, including a requirement that pregnant women receive an ultrasound 24 hours before obtaining an abortion and a stipulation that only physicians perform the procedure.
U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, who was nominated by President George W. Bush, also struck down two clinic requirements, including one that requires second-trimester abortions be performed in a hospital.
Despite the mixed ruling, pro-life groups expressed satisfaction. Hudson’s decision said the state has a legitimate interest in promoting childbirth over abortion.
Virginia Society for Human Life (VSHL) said it was “pleased” with the decision.
“Each one of these laws protects women and their babies,” the pro-life organization said in a statement. “VSHL knows that laws like the Ultrasound requirement and 24-hour waiting period provide women with critical information about their unborn child and time to reconsider the irreversible decision they might be about to make for themselves and their child.”
Pro-choice groups, though, criticized the ruling. The lawsuit was brought by abortion clinics, including the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood.
“We’re disappointed that our patients did not get their constitutionally-protected right to accessing health care without legislative interference that they are entitled to and that they deserve,” said Rosemary Codding, director of the Falls Church Healthcare Center, an abortion clinic. “Their health and their rights are foremost in our minds.”
Hudson, in his decision, acknowledged that due to Supreme Court precedent, a “woman's constitutional right to abort a pre-viability fetus is beyond debate at the district court level.” But Hudson also quoted a Supreme Court decision by asserting the state “has profound interests in protecting potential life.”
“[T]he right to choose to have an abortion is not unfettered,” Hudson wrote. “... The state, therefore, may take measures to further these interests so long as it does not create a substantial obstacle that unduly burdens a woman's right to choose.”
In striking down a requirement that all second-trimester abortion be performed in hospitals, Hudson ruled it was medically unnecessary, would raise costs and cut down on availability. Hudson also struck down a requirement that all clinics that perform five or more first-trimester abortions each month be classified as a hospital, and thus face more regulations.
But Hudson upheld restrictions targeted by abortion clinics, including one that allows only physicians to perform abortions. Such a restriction, he wrote, is “well-justified” to protect a woman’s health and safety. He also upheld a law that allows abortion clinics to receive unannounced inspections.
Hudson’s upholding of the 24-hour waiting period and ultrasound requirement was widely criticized by pro-choice groups. Under the law, a woman must be offered a chance to: 1) see the ultrasound image, 2) receive a copy of the image, and 3) listen to the heartbeat. She need not accept. Exceptions are made if she is a victim of rape or incest.
Hudson quoted the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision – which upheld legalized abortion – in asserting that waiting periods allow for “more informed and deliberate” decisions.
“Common sense supports the notion that reflection upon receipt of detailed information about an abortion procedure bolsters a decision that is complex in many respects,” he wrote.
Hudson further quoted the 1992 decision in asserting “a State is permitted to enact persuasive measures which favor childbirth over abortion.”
“It is a persuasive measure by the State to encourage women to choose childbirth rather than abortion,” Hudson wrote, “which is a valid basis upon which to regulate abortion so long as the measure does not amount to a substantial obstacle to access.”
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Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
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